A brave reckoning with multiple questions of identity, class, family, race, and other thorny issues.

HIGH YELLA

A MODERN FAMILY MEMOIR

A definitively modern writer wrestles with haunting questions from his family’s hidden past.

A gay man, Black while derided by relatives as not being Black enough, Majors is a veteran news producer who has worked for some of the nation’s leading media outlets. That trajectory might have been unlikely given his background as the scion of a poor Black family on the edges of Batavia, New York. His father was alcoholic and abusive, quick to blame his troubles on “whitey,” and he and his family endured backward glances regarding his mother’s patience with an untenable situation. “The older man she must have thought was fun-loving and good-looking was just a jobless drunk,” writes Majors. “Worse than that, he was a serial cheater.” Fast-forward in time, and the author is affluent, living in a succession of “spectacular houses,” eventually in a committed relationship that would end in a hurried marriage when Trump came into office, long after he and his now-husband had adopted two Black daughters. “After the 2016 election,” he writes, “[we] feared some of the rights we’d taken for granted might be rolled back.” As one of his daughters rebelled, Majors found himself wrestling with anger and angst. “I was the white sheep in an all-black family,” he writes. “Now I had a child who would look different from me, and I prayed it would never make a difference to her.” It did, at least for a time, and the author undertook a period of self-examination and -recrimination that became only a little less fraught when a DNA test showed that the family’s past was rather different from how it was presented to him: “There was no doubt that this person who made half of me was white.” That realization did little to make the author’ sense of self less complicated, but it did provide a certain resolution that plays well in bringing the memoir to a close.

A brave reckoning with multiple questions of identity, class, family, race, and other thorny issues.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8203-6031-7

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

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WILL

One of Hollywood’s biggest stars delivers a memoir of success won through endless, relentless work and self-reckoning.

“My imagination is my gift, and when it merges with my work ethic, I can make money rain from the heavens.” So writes Smith, whose imagination is indeed a thing of wonder—a means of coping with fear, an abusive father with the heart of a drill instructor, and all manner of inner yearnings. The author’s imagination took him from a job bagging ice in Philadelphia to initial success as a partner in the Grammy-winning rap act DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Smith was propelled into stardom thanks to the ministrations of Quincy Jones, who arranged an audition in the middle of his own birthday party, bellowing “No paralysis through analysis!” when Smith begged for time to prepare. The mantra—which Jones intoned 50-odd times during the two hours it took for the Hollywood suits to draw up a contract for the hit comedy series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—is telling, for hidden within this memoir lies a powerful self-help book. For Smith, all of life is a challenge in which one’s feelings are largely immaterial. “I watched my father’s negative emotions seize control of his ample intellect and cause him over and over again to destroy beautiful parts of our family,” he writes, good reason for him to sublimate negativity in the drive to get what he wanted—money, at first, and lots of it, which got him in trouble with the IRS in the early 1990s. Smith, having developed a self-image that cast him as a coward, opines that one’s best life is lived by facing up to the things that hold us back. “I’ve been making a conscious effort to attack all the things that I’m scared of,” he writes, adding, “And this is scary.” It’s a good lesson for any aspiring creative to ponder—though it helps to have Smith’s abundant talent, too.

A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984877-92-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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